Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Discovery Institute Wastes a Golden Opportunity and Shows Its True Colors

Steve Matheson, in response to the news that BioLogos and the Discovery Institute would be part of a larger symposium on the nature of science and religion called "The Vibrant Dance," wrote a blistering column on his blog on the cost of Christian unity. In it, he wrote:
In short, I take the following to be evident: unity is not an end in itself, and is not achieved by wishful thinking or gushy happy talk. I'll look at those two points in two posts on BioLogos and Christian unity.

So, I'm occasionally frustrated by the stance of my friends at BioLogos when it comes to Christian unity. Consider a recent and widely-discussed piece by Darrel Falk, on the question of why BioLogos is co-sponsoring a conference (called The Vibrant Dance) with two organizations known to regularly misrepresent science: Reasons To Believe (RTB) and the Discovery Institute (DI). Falk notes that this choice has been criticized by believers and skeptics alike. In my opinion, his defense of that choice misses the most important criticisms. His defense amounts to a claim that Christian unity matters more than just about anything else.
The focus behind Matheson's apprehension is his complete distrust of all things Discovery Institute and he has written extensively on this topic. I have also addressed their propensity for twisting language out of its original meaning.

Well, as Steve might say "I told you so." The majority of the conference apparently went according to plan and Darrel Falk writes that, as a whole, it was very well organized. Then the Discovery Institute pulled off its mask. Panda's Thumb refers to this as a classic case of bait and switch. As Darrel Falk writes:
Five days before the meeting, the Discovery Institute posted a statement about the upcoming event:

“Next week the Vibrant Dance of Faith and Science becomes the God and evolution showdown in Austin…”

The posting then went on to state:

Attendees have three days of speakers and sessions but should prepare for a rumble on Thursday, October 28, when Stephen Meyer and Doug Axe will go up against Darrel Falk and Randy Isaac in a debate on the origin of life…

The way this was described by the Discovery Institute was exactly what had concerned me most about this meeting. Knowing that this may have been inadvertently put up by someone who was not aware of the intention of the meeting, I immediately contacted the organizers and asked that the statement be taken down and that it be replaced with a statement which indicated an assurance that the Discovery Institute was committed to enter into our breakout session, not in the spirit of a “God and evolution showdown” or a “rumble” but within the Spirit of Christian unity. I felt the task was difficult enough as it was that unless we both clarified our mutual commitment from the start it had the potential to harm the Church.

The organizers asked the Discovery Institute to take the statement down; it was not granted. I was told that it was an Associate Director of the Discovery Institute who had denied the request. I felt strongly that there was a need to publically acknowledge that the tone of the post was not consistent with the nature of the meeting. I also felt that it was important to make a public statement about our commitment to work together in the Spirit of Christ. Because an Associate Director of the Institute acknowledged that he knew about it and wouldn’t grant the request, I pulled out.
I have often wondered if the Discovery Institute has a split personality with the researchers working on problems involving the nature of biocomplexity and the PR wing of the institute engaged in hucksterism and propaganda. Now we find that I am wrong. The rot goes all the way to the top, with the higher eschelons engaged in this intentional antagonism.

Bravo to Darrel for pulling out of the session involving the DI. This is yet another reason why other organizations refuse to take them seriously or to entreat with them. They had a golden opportunity to engage BioLogos on the legitimacy of evolutionary creationism and intelligent design and, because of their juvenile, immature approach to this complex question, they wasted it. Darrel ends his post with this:
BioLogos remains more concerned than ever about ensuring that we all—together as Christians—can come to peace with mainstream science, including biology. We do not think it is fundamentally flawed even though we know there are those who have misused it for their own philosophical agendas. We look forward to ongoing discussions with those who see things differently---but not where it has been announced to be a showdown and not where it has been presented as a rumble.
It is clear that the Discovery Institute, like the ICR and AiG, is not interested in honest debate on the topic of origins and evolution and, like those organizations, should be avoided in future endeavors like the Vibrant Dance. Steve, you were right. Good riddance and bad rubbish!
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Friday, October 29, 2010

Ramping Up to Tuesday

There are races all over the country and one of the topics on everyone's minds seems to be evolution. From the Kansas City Star we have this:
The Kansas Board of Education 1st District race features newcomer Willie Dove against incumbent Janet Waugh...Waugh believes science “should be taught as recommended by the mainstream science community, which includes evolution.” But she supports creationism being taught in other classes, including comparative religion, history or government.

Dove supports teaching alternatives to evolution but didn’t clarify if he supports teaching alternatives like creationism as part of the science curriculum.
From the Fort Collins Coloradoan, we have this:
Anyone who reads the Coloradoan's endorsement of [Ken] Buck on Oct. 22 should read all the newspaper. The front-page story is about Buck's claim that climate change is a "hoax." Buck is now retreating from that statement, but he asserted that James Inhofe of Oklahoma was the "first person to stand up and say this global warming is the greatest hoax that has been perpetrated." He added, "The evidence just keeps supporting his view and more and more people's views of what's going on."

Inhofe is the point man for the right-wing fringe. He wants a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and another to make English the official language of the United States. Inhofe also thinks evolution is a hoax and that creationism should be taught in public schools. If Buck views Inhofe as a leader whose ideas are worth repeating, it says a lot about Buck.
On the Alaska race, from the Daily Caller:
Alaska Senate hopeful Joe Miller focused on GOP rival Sen. Lisa Murkowski during the last debate before next week’s election, seeking to shore up his conservative base and win over voters following a series of high-profile campaign stumbles...
The debate touched on topics such as whether creationism should be taught in schools: Miller said yes, along with science; Democrat Scott McAdams and GOP write-in candidate Sen. Lisa Murkowski both said it shouldn’t be.
I suspect that this is playing out all over the country, with the Democrat candidates forcing the issue. I would if I were them.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Christine O'Donnell and Teaching Creationism

Delaware Online has a story about the Christine O’Donnell/Chris Coons debate that has gotten the blogosphere so riled up on both sides of the aisle. Common consensus is that the law students treated her abysmally and that she was correct in some assertions. I will deal with one of them in which she was not.
The discussion about the separation of church and state started when Coons asked O'Donnell whether she believes in evolution, a question she repeatedly skirted during two debates last week.

"What I think about the theory is irrelevant," O'Donnell said.
Coons went on to say that schools should not be permitted to teach creationism. O'Donnell replied that his view violated the Constitution and imposed his beliefs on local school districts.

"You have just stated that you will impose your will over the local school district and that is a blatant violation of our Constitution," O'Donnell said.

Not in this case. The freedom to teach creationism would only stand if creationism was accepted science. It is not. O'Donnell is correct in that the "separation of church and state" is not in constitution. The problem is that what the constitution does say is that congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion. That means not promoting state-sanctioned religion. Creationism is patently religiously based and, as such, is a clear violation of the First Amendment. This has been shown in numerous court cases dating back thirty years.

A further problem is this notion that one’s beliefs are being imposed upon by the teaching of accepted science. One only takes this perspective if they are completely ignorant of mainstream science and view it adversarially. This is not confidence-inspiring. We will see on Tuesday.

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Stand Up for Science Asks: Are God and Keplerism Compatible?

The Panda’s Thumb points us to a hilarious story from the blog “Stand Up for Real Science.” It is a parody of the recent Discovery Institute article on “Can you be a Darwinist and a theist?” by Jay Richards, on which I posted here. Titled: “Are God and Keplerism Compatible? Some Catholic, Jewish and Protestant Authors Say No”, it reads in part:
“Too few people have carefully teased out the various scientific, philosophical, and theological claims at stake in believing that the earth revolves around the sun,” says Ray Hitchens, director of research for Stationary Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Culture & Science, and editor of God and Revolution. “As a result, the whole subject of God and revolution has been an enigma wrapped in a shroud of fuzz and surrounded by a blanket of fog. To help clear the air, we are no longer denying that our motivations for rejecting it are completely religious.”
God and Revolution includes chapters by Willard Rembski, author of The Decline of Revolution; Steve Meyerson, author of Signature in the Solar System: Epicycles and the Evidence for Intelligent Design; Denise O’Lambert, co-author of The Spiraling Drain; Davis Hoffenkling, editor of Signature of Controversy: Responses to Critics of Signature in the Solar System; John Wellington, author of Icons of Revolution; and Jonathan East, author of Kepler Day in America;
The book is a response to growing efforts by some Keplerists to enlist the support of the faith community by downplaying Keplerism’s core principles. Chapters of the book detail the failures of theistic revolution, address the problem of retrograde motion, and explain how intelligent design is consonant with orthodox belief in the fixity of the earth.
This is sort of along the lines of NCSE’s “Project Steve,” that wonderful spoof of the DI’s Dissent from Darwin. Parody of the highest order.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

NPR: Feckless, Gutless and Intolerant

The story posted below was the last NPR story that I will post. The firing of Juan Williams, one of the most fair and even correspondents I have heard in recent years made me sick to my stomach. I will never post a story from NPR again, nor will I ever consider donating money to them. If a letter is circulated asking congress to defund them, I will sign it. They are not even liberal in outlook. They are politically correct and intolerant of free speech.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

NPR Tackles Linneaus

Linnaeus, if you remember your biological history, is the man responsible for the binomial classification scheme that we now use to taxonomically place animals and plants. As Robert Krulwich writes, on NPR:
"It is difficult to overstate the importance of this," write biologists Sandra Knapp and Quentin Wheeler in their 2008 book Letters to Linnaeus. The great Swede's classifications, they say, rank with the invention of the internet.

And yet the very people who should take Linnaeus most seriously — the research scientists who discover and name new species of life — have all kinds of fun playing with Linneaus' system.
As Krulwich notes, however, there has been some fun at Linnaeus' expense:
But recently my collection of names has been updated by Professor Chris Impey in his new book How It Ends. Here’s Chris’ list of favorites:

He found a beetle named Agra vation and another one called Agra phobia. (These are their real scientific names.)

There is a pine tree called Pinus rigidus.

There is a mollusk named Abra cadabra.

He found an extinct rat-kangaroo called Wakie wakie.
I once heard a story about a man who discovered a new species of snail and, to spite his major professor, who's name was Hodgekiss, called it Hodgekisseanus.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

John Freshwater Update

Panda's Thumb has an update on the John Freshwater case titled The Defense Goes Fishing. Richard Hoppe writes:
The defense in Freshwater v. Mount Vernon Board of Education, the federal suit John Freshwater brought against the Board of Education, several administrators, and several Board members, recently issued a series of subpoenas to people ranging from Nancy Freshwater’s physicians to a couple of private citizens. While the former is arguably relevant to the case, the latter are not. Part of Freshwater’s claim in his suit is the adverse effect on his wife and loss of consortium, so her medical records are potentially pertinent. However, in at least two cases, the defense is clearly on a fishing expedition that among other things has chilling implications for the First Amendment rights of the recipients.
The whole post is interesting. There are apparently two local residents who have a web site devoted to the trial. The defense subpoenaed everything that the two had ever written about the case, whether it made the web or not. Given the history of the defense in this case, this is not promising. Reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee plunk! Wonder what will end up on the hook.

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The Friendly Atheist on “The Whole Truth”

Since this seems to be the theme of the week, I noticed that the Friendly Atheist has a piece on how pushy atheists should be when confronting Christians or others who believe in a higher power. Referring to the atheism of PZ Myers and Chris Mooney, he writes:
Here’s the difference between the two sides: You know that courtroom phrase, “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”?

Both Mooney and PZ want to tell the truth about science and evolution.

Only PZ is willing to tell the whole truth — that the logical conclusion of accepting science fully is that you must dismiss any notion of gods, miracles, and the supernatural.

Mooney thinks it’s bad PR for us to admit that — and he may be right — but it’s wrong to let Christians keep thinking science and religion are perfectly compatible when they really aren’t.

There are two striking assumptions here that Mehta expects us to take at face value: that PZ Myers’ perspective is “the whole truth” and that the logical conclusion of accepting science is that you must reject any notion of the existence of the supernatural.

This odd conflation of methodology with worldview, is known as philosophical naturalism. It means that in my scientific endeavors, I must believe that a supernatural entity does not and cannot exist. In this case, my worldview may or may not be divorced from reality. Performing science with the assumption that there is no interference from a higher power does not mean that there is not one. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

I would also make the case that it is intellectually dishonest. I contend that science cannot address the existence of God one way or the other. It simply is not equipped to do so. Astrophysicist Hugh Ross, who wrote The Fingerprint of God, which deals with the level of “tweaking” that the universe exhibits in order to sustain life on this third rock from the sun, believes that this points to the existence of God. As far as he and other progressive creationists and intelligent design supporters are concerned, while not a smoking gun, this level of inferential evidence is enough. Maybe, but it is a post hoc argument. It only looks tweaked because we are here to observe it. One of the main complaints about ID is that it has no theoretical construct to test for the existence of God. Michael Behe suggests that evolution cannot explain the flagellar motor or the blood-clotting cascade in humans. Even if, by some chance that is true, it still presents no support that God produced either in ex nihilo fashion.

By the same token, the statement that there is no god is a statement of faith. It is only the whole truth if you subscribe to the reductionistic view that all we can see is all that exists. Once again, science cannot address that question. To be completely honest, we must be scientifically agnostic. What we believe to be true is a matter of faith. PZ Myers and Herment Mehta believe in their hearts that there is no god. I believe that there is.

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Jerry Coyne On Why Science and Religion Cannot Be Friends

Jerry Coyne, author of Why Evolution is True, has written a column for USA Today, in which he opines that science and religion cannot coexist. He begins:
Atheist books such as The God Delusion and The End of Faith have, by exposing the dangers of faith and the lack of evidence for the God of Abraham, become best-sellers. Science nibbles at religion from the other end, relentlessly consuming divine explanations and replacing them with material ones.
Gee, Jerry. Don't hesitate to tell us what you think. He is, of course, focusing on the "God of the Gaps" model of the universe, assuming that this is a valid picture of Christianity. For some, it might be. It is not for most. He continues:
But faith will not go gentle. For each book by a "New Atheist," there are many others attacking the "movement" and demonizing atheists as arrogant, theologically ignorant, and strident.
Can't imagine why that would be. I remember having a conversation with my pastor after "the talk." He had gone out and picked up something by Richard Dawkins. While he did not have the background to understand the arguments on evolution, what came out clear as a bell was the "strident" (he used that word) and arrogant wording of Dawkins in all things religious. Unlike the NCSE, of whom Eugenie Scott at least held religious belief in respect, if not something she believed herself, Coyne is insulting and disdainful in his view of religion. A bit later, he tips his hand, though:
Science and faith are fundamentally incompatible, and for precisely the same reason that irrationality and rationality are incompatible. They are different forms of inquiry, with only one, science, equipped to find real truth. And while they may have a dialogue, it's not a constructive one. Science helps religion only by disproving its claims, while religion has nothing to add to science.

He is correct. They are different forms of inquiry. The thing is that while others regard religious inquiry as valid, he does not. That is not a failing of religious inquiry, it is a reductionistic view on his part. That he does not find this level of inquiry does not mean, nor should it mean that others do not.
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Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Charles Darwin Two Pound Coin

Great Britain has released a coin that has Charles Darwin's head and that of a chimpanzee looking at each other. It is in honor of his 200th birthday. Here is an image of it.

Unless you live in a large city, my guess is you will have to order it online. I know I will have to.

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Jay Richards Asks "Can You Be a Darwinist and a Theist?"

Jay Richards, editor of the new book God and Evolution, has given us a short taste of what the book is about in a video posted on the DI website. In it, he hopes to strike a logical blow against the idea of theistic evolution (or evolutionary creationism, if you prefer). In it, he states:
When English speakers use the word “evolution” they usually mean neo-Darwinian evolution which means that all the adaptive complexity you see is the result of random genetic mutation acted on by natural selection and they mean that as an impersonal and purposeless process. But when they say “random,” that’s not just some mathematical term that’s perfectly compatible with a view of God’s providence. They mean “purposeless” and that’s the problem. Not even God can direct an “undirected” process.
This is classic Discovery Institute sleight-of-hand. Mr. Richards focuses on the idea that mutations are random and then extrapolates this idea to the entire evolutionary process, which he argues cannot logically be incorporated into a view of a providential God.

But by equating mutation with selection, he glosses completely over the fact that selection is not random. It is directional and depends on the kind of environment in which the organism lives. Environments change over time and are different depending on where they are on the planet. Selection acts in populations based on these different biomes. If evolution is random, then the appearance of these biomes in different areas and at different times is random as well.

Oddly, he also fails to address the validity of incorporating the randomness of mutations into the view of a providential God. If mutations drive evolution, as Richards states, and evolution is random, then mutations must be random as well.

I plan to rent this as soon as it is available and it is possible I will arrive at a different conclusion once I have seen it. Given the DI's track record, however, I suspect that the four minute video is representative of the whole.

Richards argues that “neo-Darwinian” evolution is incompatible with belief in a providential God and that this is something that theistic evolutionists don’t want to face. This is only true if evolution works the way that Richards thinks it does. It does not. Evolution, properly understood, does not address the existence of God, no matter how much the Discovery Institute would wish otherwise.

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Richard Dawkins Interview in the Houston Chronicle

On Sunday, Eric Berger of the Houston Chronicle sat down with Richard Dawkins. Given the stridency with which Dawkins has attacked religious belief and championed evolutionary theory, the results were a bit surprising (to me at least). First the non-surprising part:

Q. Are you surprised that, in the 21st century, we're still debating evolution in the public square?

A. Yes, I'm very surprised. I'm not quite sure why of all the sciences, it is evolution that should be singled out for this remarkable treatment. Amateurs who know nothing of science don't attempt to dictate what goes into chemistry or physics textbooks, as far as I am aware. But in the case of my own subject, biology, it's a free-for-all where anyone can say what they think as a personal opinion. These are not matters of personal opinion, these are matters of fact. And matters of fact are determined by the evidence. And it is the evidence that should define what goes into textbooks.

I had this discussion with my pastor way back when. I asked him, “Don't you think it is odd that every other major science discipline has figured out how the world works but biologists have gotten it completely wrong?” He admitted that this was puzzling and worthy of consideration. Unfortunately, it is also behind the many “academic freedom” bills that have littered state legislatures in the past few years, since the Dover decision. While there is lip service to the idea that all scientific disciplines should be examined for their strengths and weaknesses, no one seriously doubts that the entire thrust of these bills is aimed solely at evolution.

Dawkins does say something somewhat startling, though. When asked:
Q. From your perspective is there any credible evidence for the existence of a God?
He replies:
A. No, not to my mind. But I think it's a respectable thing to have an argument about. It's something we can have an intelligent argument in which intelligent people can make points on both sides.
This strikes me as being a bit of a lurch from his “Age of Reason” program in which he castigated parents for imparting religious values to their children. If the religious people are “intelligent” people, why can they not pass on these values to their children?

A bit later, however, Dawkins reminds us that a good evolutionary biologist can be a very bad sociologist. The question posed is this:
Q. Do you fear the United States is on its way to becoming a theocracy?
Unaccountably, Dawkins answers the question thus:
A. I think that when George W. Bush was president it was starting to look that way. I was of course hugely encouraged by the election of Barack Obama, so I don't think the United States is on its way to becoming a theocracy. But it's something we need to watch. I think there are countries in the world that are theocracies, and they're terrible, terrible examples. Looking at Saudi Arabia, we really, really don't want my part of the world or your part of the world to go anywhere near that.
This is patent nonsense. The United States has never even come close to a theocracy, nor will it ever come close. He comments that during George Bush, it was "starting to look that way." No it wasn't. It was during the presidency of George Bush, for example, that anti-Christmas campaigns got going in earnest. There were no freedoms curtailed, there was no religious dictate from on high. There was nothing. One of the people who commented on the story also wrote:
It's hard to take seriously anything else the guy says when he says something that dumb. I'd love to know what Bush policy he's referring to. Is he talking about Bush's faith based initiative program? If so, he doesn't know his facts since Obama has continued the program.
Like I said, great evolutionary biologist, mediocre theologian and sociologist at best. Read both the interview and the comments, if you have time.

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Monday, October 11, 2010

The Future Evolution of Humans

Futurepundit has an article on "How Will Humans Evolve?" Much of this sort of thing is pure speculation, although there are some trajectories can be plotted. He (Randall Parker) writes:
Starting some time in the next 10 years genetic testing will enable embryo selection that will start off the trend toward healthier, sexier, and smarter offspring. That trend will accelerate in the 2020s and 2030s. Therefore in the 2040s and beyond we (at least those of us who live long enough to get rejuvenation therapies that make us young again) will witness a trend toward higher attractiveness. People will become more perfect-looking and more able. Parents will generally want children capable of achieving more success. This will tend to select for intelligence, looks, height, stamina, and motivation. The choices made to get these desired traits will select against genetic diversity in the humans species.
It is safe to say that this sort of speculation has been around since the 1960s, when the progress of DNA modification was first thought to have potential. I even remember encountering it in an Archie comic once.There are problems, of course, with this simplistic assessment of future evolution. First, traits such as "intelligence" are polygenic, and much is unknown about how intelligence forms. It has been, after all, only a short time since the Forkhead Box P2 gene was discovered that seems to help drive language capabilities. Other genes are pleiotropic, affecting a range of traits. How do you influence one and not others? Even sophisticated gene therapy has a hard time homing in on one trait, and that is if it is not pleiotropic or polygenic. Second, people are remarkably funny about what they want. In many polls, it has been found that the women that men find most attractive usually winds up not being the one they will marry.

It is possible that we might be able to decrease the genetic load of the population but even this will be slow. Many diseases, such as MS and Parkinsons, are post-reproductive and their genetic basis is still largely a mystery. All of these factors (and others I am sure) have largely been responsible for the fact that humans don't look appreciably sexier, aren't healthier and don't have more motivation than their precursors 50-60 years ago.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Textbook Trouble in Florida

In the first of three articles on the subject, the Orlando Sentinel reported on some trouble that a science textbook publisher has found itself in. In the September 30 paper, Leslie Postal wrote:

The publishers of a marine-science textbook that critics say contains pro-creationism material has agreed to remove two offending pages from editions sold to Florida schools, state officials said.

An advisory group, made up mostly of educators, that reviewed the book on CD-ROM last week recommended that "Life on an Ocean Planet" be approved only if the pages were cut, a participant said.

The Florida Department of Education said the publisher has agreed. Current Publishing, in California, did not respond to a request for comment.

The second article, which ran later the same day, also by Postal, had a bit more information about the controversy:

The book, Life on an Ocean Planet, was one of 22 reviewed by a group (made up mostly of educators) asked to recommend high school life sciences materials. The two participants I spoke with said the book stood out because of those two pages, which seemed intent on misinforming students or rehashing discredited ideas.

Both said that book was in stark contract to the others they reviewed –most for various high school biology courses . The other textss [sic], they said, were top-notch and dealt with evolution head on, as required under Florida’s new science standards. The Florida Department of Education said last week that the book’s publisher had agreed to remove the pages that raised red flags, but I never heard back from Current Publishing to confirm that.

In the third article, which ran October 4,the textbook company, Current Publishing, defended their position. Postal writes:

The criticized “sidebar” passages in a marine science textbook proposed for Florida high schools were meant to be a “critical thinking exercise for students” and not a way to undermine the teaching of evolution, said a vice president with Current Publishing, the text’s publisher.

The textbook Life on an Ocean Planet was developed for Florida’s marine science courses in 2005 and revised recently to meet the state’s new science standards, said Dean Allen, the company’s vice president and general manager.

The book doesn’t attempt to mislead or undermine the teaching of evolution, he insisted.
The odd thing about all three stories in the Sentinel is that no part of the sidebar information is either extracted or referenced. Those reading the story have no idea what was in the sidebar that was offensive. For that we have to go to the NCSE, which replicates the sidebars. They write:
The sidebar makes a variety of historical and scientific errors. For example, it claims that in the Origin of Species "Darwin proposed that life arose from nonliving matter"; it equates microevolution with genetic drift; and it contends that selective breeding demonstrates genetic drift. Moreover, although the sidebar acknowledges that "the vast majority of biologists (probably more than 95%)" accept evolution, it also airs, without attempting to debunk, a variety of creationist claims (which are attributed to unnamed "skeptics"). Among these claims: that the fossil record "does not contain the many transitional species one would expect," that "evolution doesn't adequately explain how a complex structure ... could come to exist through infrequent random mutations," that transitional features could not be favored by natural selection, and that "the hypotheses that ... chemicals can lead to abiogenesis are highly debatable."

It is difficult to believe that some of the committee that wrote the textbook did not put these passages in on purpose in the hopes that they would not be noticed. The bullet points in the sidebar are ID "talking points" and are straight out of the "academic freedom" playbook championed so heavily by the Discovery Institute. It would also be naive to think that this is not the only place they will show up. The bad thing here is that the writers of the textbook should have known better. The good thing is that the misinformation was caught.

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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Ah, the Life!

The Tribune Newspaper of Swartkrans has an article about a former factory manager who is now hunting for fossils in South Africa. According to the story by Robyn Dixon:
[Morris] Sutton, 47, an archaeologist, was a Memphis, Tenn., factory manager who grew tired of the flat horizon of commerce and manufacturing and of laying off fellow employees. So he quit to pursue his hobby: hunting for fossils and Stone Age tools. He went back to college to study archaeology and later moved to South Africa, where he is a postdoctoral researcher with the Institute for Human Evolution at the University of the Witwatersrand.
Now that would be fun! Swartkrans is a site that was first excavated by Robert Broom in the 1930s and revealed Australopithecus robustus remains, including some almost complete skulls, such as the one on the left, and a complete vertebral column, showing without a shadow of a doubt that these creatures with small, ape-like skulls were walking upright like modern humans.

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Friday, October 01, 2010

Stone Tool Use on Flores Was Earlier Than Previously Thought

Mike Morwood and Adam Brumm, who have working on the island of Flores have discovered tools that are around one million years old. According to a story by Anna Salleh on ABC Science:
The tools came from an entirely new site in the Soa basin, to the east of Liang Bua cave, where the 18,000-year-old 'hobbit', Homo floresiensis was found. The tools, which could only have been made by early humans, were in the very bottom sediment layers of the site, just above the bedrock.
Back in 1994, I was shown a cast of a hominid that had been found in Indonesia, by the late Grover Kranz, in which he argued that the placement of some very primitive crests on the base of the skull placed it either in late Australopithecus or early Homo habilis. This is similar to an argument that has been made by Don Tyler at the University of Idaho, who posits that there was a hominid form in Indonesia he dubs Meganthropus that was more primitive than the later Homo erectus forms. If it does turn out that the tools were made by a hominid form other than Homo erectus, it would add credence to these arguments. We do know that a very primitive form of Homo erectus/ergaster was knocking at the gates of Europe around 1.8 million years. It is not out of the question that such a form would made its way to Indonesia between 500 and 800 k years later.

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